The last stop on the N.L. Central Farewell Tour is St. Louis Missouri. Nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River, St. Louis is home to the Gateway Arch and the World Series Champion Cardinals. The Cardinals will have to try to defend their crown without the services of their best player. Albert Pujols has signed a 10-year contract to play for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Another St. Louis superstar was kind enough to join us for the tour stop. Chris Carelli is the editor at redbirdrants.com and a staff writer at FanSided’s calltothepen.com. Chris has also appeared as a Cardinal’s expert on KURE radio. As is the custom on the tour, we have a few questions for Chris. Let’s get things started with three from our Senior Staff Writer Alex Sandoval.
The Albert Pujols drama didn’t turn out as Cardinals’ fans would have liked. How has the fanbase dealt with the loss of a St Louis legend?
"Initially there seemed to be a lot of animosity towards him. Many couldn’t understand why he went after the money after suggesting he wanted to stay in St. Louis for his entire career. Now, many are ready to move forward. Some hope to face the Angels in the World Series and win to rub it in his face."
Jason Motte did a fine job of closing during the playoffs but was that enough to give him the job for 2012 or will there be an open competition during spring training?
"Both new manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak have tabbed Motte as the closer to start the season."
Carlos Beltran had a nice bounce back 2011 but health is always an issue with him. With his addition, how does the Cardinals OF look for 2012 and what kind of measures will be taken to protect Carlos?
"From left to right it is Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Beltran. Beltran could see some time in center field too depending on his health. When Allen Craig returns he provides plenty of depth to be able to rest the veterans including Beltran."
Alright, now it’s CTH Staff Writer Brian Hamilton’s turn. Brian also has a trio of hard-hitting questions about the 2012 Cards.
The NL Central race seems to be between the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds this year as the Astros and Cubs are rebuilding and the Pirates are in transition as well. Which team do you see as more of a threat to the Cardinals and do you ultimately believe the Cardinals will win the division this year?
"In my opinion this is all dependent on the impending arbitration ruling concerning Ryan Braun’s performance enhancing drug test failure. If he misses 50 games, then the Reds are probably stronger than the Brewers. With Braun, the Brewers have an evenly matched lineup, plus they have a better rotation than the Reds. That said, neither team will be able to keep up with the Cardinals, if, and it is a big IF, the Cardinals can stay healthy."
Might we see Houston native and top pitching prospect Shelby Miller at some point this season or do you believe he will need one more year of seasoning at AAA?
"There would have to be at least two significant injuries in order for the Cards to bring up Miller. My feeling is if they felt that an injury was devastating enough that they couldn’t make the postseason without Miller, they would call him up. There are other options if they need spot starts. They would prefer he spend the entire season in AAA. Maybe he gets a call at the end of the season and works out of the pen during the stretch run or in the playoffs, but even that seems likely only if there are major issues with the rest of the staff."
How did you feel about the Astros hiring of former Cardinals employee Jeff Luhnow and Luhnow’s subsequent raiding of the Cards front office and coaching personnel?
"Personnel changes are just as much as part of the game as players changing teams. It seems to me that teams do not typically disallow their staff from interviewing elsewhere when it involves a promotion, so the Cardinals acted in that manner. The Cardinals lost their manager and pitching coach which I think means more than losing front office personnel. The Cardinals just moved employees up the chain just like any other company would."
Thanks for the insight, Chris. Now here’s my take on the 2012 Cardinals. Pujols will definitely be missed, but the Cards should still field one of the best lineups in the league. Allen Craig and David Freese both seemed to come of age in the 2011 season. A repeat performance from the two youngsters could go a long way toward helping Cards fans forget Prince Albert. Craig is recovering from knee surgery and could miss the first month of the season. Newly acquired Carlos Beltran should also help the Cards stay near the top in several offensive categories.
Yadier Molina supplies above average offense and outstanding defense behind the plate. The Cards made a nice move by re-signing shortstop Rafael Furcal. The former Dodger was acquired at the trade deadline last season and paid immediate dividends, especially on defense. Comeback Player of the Year Award winner Lance Berkman returns to his familiar position of first base and the Cards overall defense looks to be better than it was last year. Skip Schumaker is still the second baseman but could be pressured by Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene.
The rotation will get a boost with the return of Adam Wainwright. The former Cy Yound Award winner missed all of 2011 due to Tommy John Surgery. The rest of a veteran rotation includes Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook. Edwin Jackson helped the Cards down the stretch and in the post-season but has moved on to Washington via Free Agency. The rotation is not that bad if they can stay healthy. Carpenter (37), Lohse (33), and Westbrook (34) aren’t getting any younger. All three (and Wainwright) have had injury problems in recent seasons.
The bullpen that carried St. Louis through the playoffs remains mostly intact as well. Octavio Dotel is gone, but Fernando Salas, Mitchell Boggs, and Mark Rzepczynski remain. Jason Motte should be excellent now that he knows the closer’s role is his. Kyle McClellan and Lance Lynn are holdovers from last season and will be pushed by newcomers Scott Linebrink, J.C. Romero, and Victor Marte.
The offense should be solid. The question is- how far can the pitching staff take new skipper Mike Matheny? Prediction: Cards finish second and secure a wildcard spot.